Albert Mountain

AT Journals: Pre Trail Jitters & All The Thoughts Keeping Me Up At Night

Albert Mountain

I’ve realized that I have anticipatory anxiety when it comes to traveling, and I reached a point where I was unhealthily stressed out about the logistics of making this whole trip happen. This was exacerbated by a sudden onset of IT band syndrome 4 weeks before I was scheduled to leave, which threw me into a tailspin, causing me to question my ability to accomplish this, and making me feel like a huge failure in spite of that fact that I’ve already hiked 650+ miles this year. I immediately started physical therapy and have been disappointed at how slow the progress feels. As of now, I have one week before I leave, and when I walk around town, I’m still aware of my knee even though it’s not causing any tear-inducing pain at the moment. Part of me is resigned that whatever will be, will be. This is out of my control. The other part of me wants to throw things and scream because I don’t want my body to mess this up for me. So I’ve been warning people that there is a very real possibility that I will return to work early if I’m a few days in and my knee starts screaming at me, making it impossible to go on. Part of me dies every time I do this, but I want them to know this going in because maybe it’ll make me feel like less of a failure if I have to come off trail. True story.

And then there is the gear. Since I’ll be hiking in New England September-mid October, the temps can vary wildly. Anywhere from 30s at night to 70s during the day. So this means I have to prepare for winter even though I’ll probably be sweating it up those mountains during the day. My 10 degree sleeping bag weighs a pound more than my summer bag. Clothing is heavier too. So even though I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money buying lightweight or ultralight gear, I’ve not figured out how to reduce my base weight below 15 lbs. for winter because I want to be warm. For those of you not familiar with backpacking, base weight refers to everything you’re carrying minus consumables like food and water. My hope is to never have more than 23 lbs. on my back, keeping in mind that one liter of water weighs 2 lbs. While 23 lbs. might seem like a paltry weight to some guy who weighs 180 and could lift a cinder block with his pinky finger, it feels like a ton of bricks on my small, scoliosis-ridden frame. Ideally, I’d love to carry no more than 20 lbs. including food and water, but I would have to make some serious sacrifices to my comfort and the last thing I want is to be freezing at the end of an arduous day. I will agonize over every ounce until the day I leave. This is inevitable.

My plan is to hike the AT from New York all the way up through Vermont and continue straight at the Maine Junction to complete the 272 mile Long Trail, a major bucket list item for me. The fear factor involved with this is that most folks will have finished hiking the LT at this point and I might very well have a lot of alone time on the northern portion of the trail, which is significantly more remote and difficult than the first 100 miles. I’ve been watching videos to see what I’m getting myself into and I’m not gonna lie, I’m nervous. The LT ends at the Canadian border, and in October, the possibility of snow is real. My hope is to complete the entire LT in 3 weeks, maybe less if I’m able to do some big mile days. I really hope I meet some late hikers out there.

Another thing that has been really tough for me during the planning stages of all this is the realization of how few people in my life truly get why I want to do this. My parents think I’m insane. I can tell even though they are trying to be supportive. They are going to pick me up at the airport and drop me off on the trail, but I’m trying to imagine them being ok with watching their daughter just walk into the woods off some sketchy road. I have lost count, and patience, with the number of people who repeatedly ask why Rob isn’t coming with me. And even though Rob has always been 100% behind all of my adventures, it’s not something he has a desire to do, so even though I talk about hiking all the time, he’s still thinking “You have fun, just please don’t ask me to go along.”

I will say though, that I have a few girlfriends who totally get why I want to do this because they are adventurous badasses who I admire so much. I met one of them on the AT and we talk about gear all the time and encourage each other in all our hiking dreams, which is amazing. Another one called me when she found out about my leg and told me some of her own trail experiences, and how she pushed through, then reassured me to go anyway and see what happens. And a coworker who, once we get work “out of the way,” is always willing to talk about trails and trips she’s taking. Ladies, we need to support each other, to keep lifting one another up, and empowering each other to chase our dreams. Women truly need other women speaking positive messages into their lives, like fire lifting a hot air balloon off the ground, enabling it to fly.

When I come home from this, whether it’s in a week or the full 6 weeks, I’ll be able to tell people what it was like, but as to what they will actually understand? It’s indescribable on paper. Unless you’ve hiked on the AT, it just won’t be real. And that’s ok. I’ll try to convey what this is like in the best way I possibly can because I’ll never forget how something in my soul was sparked the first time I read a book called “Alone But Not Lonely” by Annie Gibavic about her solo hike on the Long Trail. I’ll never forget how I laughed when Bill Bryson comically recalled his hike on the AT in “A Walk In The Woods.” I’ll never forget how I cried my way through “Wild” as Cheryl Strayed ripped her heart open so we could all walk along during her soul searching trek on the PCT. I’ll never forget how Jennifer Pharr Davis and Heather Anderson made me feel pain, thirst, exhaustion, and triumph (!!) as they wrote about their record setting hikes on the AT and the PCT. I’ll never forget how these books shaped me, inspired me, and made me a little braver to think I could do this too.

Until I leave, I’ll have to keep knocking myself out with Benadryl every night because my brain won’t shut off. I’ve woken up at 3 am making lists, purchasing tiny dropper bottles online, ordering a last minute sale item from Patagonia “just to try” to see if it’s better than the thing I’m already bringing…I can’t stop. I want this to happen so badly. I’m worried about the stupid leg, being lonely, falling off some sketchy boulder, having a tree fall on my tent, getting Lyme disease, hitchhiking (I can’t let myself even think about this yet), and the fear of feeling so utterly free that my transition back to civilization sends me into a depressive spiral. These are the things that go bump in the night inside of my head.

appalachian trail

AT Journals: Muskrat Creek Shelter to Betty Creek Gap Camp

Total miles: 16.1 including water stops

I have never smelled so bad in my life. So I was the second one to leave the shelter camp this morning because I needed to get away from the crowd of people at Muskrat Creek. I have a black eye and was feeling ugly and gross. Nothing strips away your vanity faster than hanging out with a bunch of dudes when your face is messed up, your hair is out of control, and you smell like death. After yesterday I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, and let me tell you, as pretty and rolling as the first several miles were today, I hit some kind of wall. The woods were covered in ferns and we were walking through burned areas that were freshly growing again. Parts of the way were more technical with boulders and rocks and roots galore. My legs were moving, but functioning is as much as I can call it.

I ran into a trail maintenance crew, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the work these crews do. With the amount of use the AT experiences, this work is essential. I was surprised by the number of older people working in the crew, and remembered that the ATC has been asking for younger people to get involved. All I can say is THANK YOU so much for making this footpath a safer place to traverse.

The biggest climb of the day was Standing Indian Mountain and it was a pleasant stroll compared to yesterday’s climb. I pumped the tunes and made it up to the summit where a magnificent view lay before me. There was a small group up there but they kept to themselves and I sprawled out for lunch finally basking in a scene I’d been aching to see for days. I didn’t realize at this point that I was ahead of the guys because Big Red had passed me on the way up the mountain.

People become fast friends out here. So yesterday morning, Big Red Met the two Jason’s, one from Denver, one from Fort Worth. They’re thru hikers. Then I met them on the way and we got to talking and realized we were all going to the same place. Then last night we picked up David at the shelter, he’s 25 and is killing all of us on speed.

So I got off the mountain after lunch and continued the leisurely stroll down to the next gap. Today was gorgeous, sunny, breezy, some great views. But still, I was dying. It didn’t matter what I ate, my energy was zapped and I was just moving on autopilot.

About 10 miles in, I got to a stream that was actually flowing!!! Water has been scarce out here and I’ve had to fill up on literal trickles of water. What you do is find a good, wide, flat leaf and position it in a spot where the water is just dripping down the face of a rock. The leaf acts as a stile and allows you to get water into a bottle. Some of the water sources aren’t deep enough to put a hand into. So when I saw this stream I immediately dropped everything and washed my face and my hands and just reveled in the coolness. I was finally able to soak and remove the crusty scabs off my nose and there is pink, healing skin under there! I filtered water and watched salamanders and crayfish hanging out in a little pool. Soon, the Jasons came by and we hung out and talked about the water situation at the camp tonight, which was supposedly not good.

While we were talking, this gorgeous woman plops down in the dirt and introduces herself as Foxtrot. She thru hiked the trail in 2016 and was out here to do 50 miles in 2 days. I talked to her for a while because I was so excited to see another solo woman.

I felt revived after the water and socialization, so I kept my head down for the remaining miles, sat by another view for awhile, and headed into camp. David was there already and we scouted out a place where 4 tents and a hammock would work well near each other. The other guys came in and we all got water and set up camp. We’re on the same schedule until I get off the trail and I now get the whole trail family thing. I had originally been super resistant to this because I’m such an introvert and am so bad at small talk. It happens so quickly though. You meet people, start talking about your lives, and before you know it, you have inside jokes, are making fun of each other, and are friends.

Tonight we all cooked together and then had the bear hang olympics. Big Red and I showed them the PCT hang, because we’re obviously experts at this point, and then the games began. There is nothing more hysterical than watching people try to throw a rope over a high branch. Everyone sucks at it. There are no exceptions! We were all dying. This is what entertainment looks like without television.

After waiting way too long to get a GPS signal to send messages to loved ones in what was affectionately known as the Garmin Graveyard or Garmin Stonehenge, we all turned in and tried not to be too excited about going to town tomorrow.

appalachian trail

AT Journals: Deep Gap Shelter To Muskrat Creek Shelter

Total miles – 16.4 including water stops

Well, today did beat all. Left the shelter and headed out into a lovely day. However, I ended coming upon another one of these little memorial medallions, and I can’t take it anymore. Let me explain. There was a murder on the trail about a week and a half before I went out, a horrible tragedy that rocked the hiking world. Some well meaning school teacher decided to have her class make these medallions that have been scattered across the miles I’ve been hiking. They contain the name of a hiker who has died on the AT. Geraldine Largay was from Brentwood, TN, and went by the trail name Inchworm. Her story is heartbreaking and a book just came out about her experience. Whoever put these things all over the trail maybe thought they were doing a good thing, but they were not. Not only does this violate Leave No Trace principles, it’s macabre for those of us out here hiking. I’ve been focusing on gratitude because there is honestly no place I’d rather be than out here, sweating up these hills. Today I am most thankful for the gentle breeze, streams that aren’t dried up, and the tiny triple antibiotic pouches in my first aid kit. I am also thankful for my health and the ability to hike.

I stupidly thought today wouldn’t be as hard as yesterday. I now think of Kelly Knob affectionately as a small hill. In fact, I enjoyed today a lot. When I met up with Big Red and two other thru hikers, he even said that yesterday felt like work. It did. But were we in for it…

I stopped several times today to clean my nose as it keeps oozing and looks beyond disgusting. I think it’s healing and is just getting rid of the bad stuff. I’m starting to get a black eye, which is really the icing on the cake at this point. The hiker from Denver asked me if I took a spill, so I told the story for like the 8th time. Rob said I need to say that I beat the shit out of a mountain lion, so that’s officially my new story.

As I was walking today, up and down every freaking hill and mountain in the god awful state of Georgia, I kept thinking that doing this is truly a naturalist’s dream experience. I kept finding awesome caterpillars, saw a garter snake and a ring neck snake, toads, salamanders, mushrooms, weird looking bugs, and so many amazing plants and trees. I’m reading a book about forests right now and how trees communicate with each other, and I keep thinking about it as I’m passing through these forests. If I didn’t love nature so much, I’m not sure what my reason for doing this would be.

The finish line of GA was propelling me forward today. When I got to that sign it was so exciting!!! One state down, 13 to go. Well, hell.

Just past the sign is a water source where a big black bellied salamander was hanging out of the end of the water pipe. He looked so zen. I sat there for a while, ate a snack and then headed into NC.

Well, let me tell you, I was pretty sure this was going to be the hill I would literally die on. I kept thinking “WTF, NORTH CAROLINA?!?!” All of us were ready to be done with GA and thought, I don’t know, that maybe it’d be a little easier? It was almost vertical in spots. I’m not even kidding. And it went on into oblivion. There was no top to that mountain. In these situations, there is nowhere to go but up, and every step gets you closer to the top. Over and over I kept telling myself to keep going. Rest, sip water, breathe, step step step, repeat. I can see why people wear down mentally. GA is a primer and NC is freaking grade school. To add to the misery of the climb, the trail was really overgrown and grass was brushing up against my skin making me worry about ticks and just feel nasty. I put my rain skirt on and it helped a lot. Finally made it to a small view off the side of the trail, all the way down to Fontana, and it was glorious. I feel like a speck of a speck of dust. The hills seem infinite.

After I reached the top of the mountain, fatigue slammed into me, and I had to focus everything I had on getting to the shelter. When I arrived I plopped down on a log next to Big Red who was still processing what the hell had just happened and we cracked up. There is a delirium that hits at the end of the day. There were a LOT of folks at this shelter and camped all around. It was insanely crowded, and all I wanted to do was get away from people. We could barely get some of them to move over so we could cook. Colorblind and Jsquared rolled in and decided to stay here and then camp with us tomorrow. So awesome to be adding fun folks!!

I taught two young girls how to do a bear hang. They came up to me when they saw me hanging my bag, so I walked them through it and they now have a skill I didn’t have until yesterday. We’re all students and teachers out here if we take the time to listen and observe.

Another big mile day tomorrow with a huge 2.5 mile climb, Lord help us all.

appalachian trail

AT Journals: Blue Mountain Shelter to Deep Gap Shelter

Total miles: 16.4 including water stops

Good Lord, today was hard. Like, “beat the stuffing out of a person” hard. I woke up and cleaned the dried blood out of my nose and looked at the ugly yellowish scab that is forming over the scrape. I’m officially hideous. I hope everything heals without leaving a giant scar or getting infected. Amazingly enough, I had no bleeding at all today and felt great! Maybe my deviated septum was shoved back into proper alignment, ha!

I honestly can’t believe I accomplished what I did today after feeling so awful yesterday following that fall. The climbs today were huge and unforgiving. Unicoi Gap, Tray Mountain, Kelly Knob, and everything in between. Water stops were farther apart and they were all off the trail one or two tenths of a mile that inevitably went down a steep hill, which meant a steep climb up. Give a hiker a break!!! Tomorrow, I leave GA behind and I am so excited to have this state finished.

Today I passed a group of folks from Atlanta who are in a hiking group. They asked to take a picture with me, and sure, ok, so I took a picture with them. Then a little farther down the trail I came upon an older man from their group. He turned around to see me and immediately fell over. I was so horrified for him and felt like I should have given more of a warning that I was coming. Tonight at the shelter, I was telling the story and just lost my mind laughing about it. The guy’s Apple watch asked him if it needed to call 911 because it had detected that he’d fallen. Isn’t that nuts?!
Met another solo female hiker today along the way who was headed to our same shelter tonight, which was nice because when I got here it was 10 guys and me. Everyone has been so nice though and Big Red has become a familiar face who is on the same schedule. We’re going to do the next few days together and stay at the same hostel in Franklin. There aren’t a lot of women out here. Half the people out here are connected to the military in some way, like ex military, contractors, etc. I’m keeping up with soldiers, dammit!

There were a few views today on top of Tray Mountain and Kelly Knob, but not nearly as many as I’d hoped. Tomorrow we’re going through rattlesnake territory and two people I passed today had seen some. It’s nerve wracking knowing there are so many around. As cool as I think it would be to see one, it also scares the crap out of me and I’d be totally ok with not seeing one.

The heat has been off the charts and I’ve been sweating more than I’ve ever sweat. I drank 6 liters of water today and probably could have had more. Electrolytes are so important!!! If I’d known it would be this bad I would have packed more Nuun tabs. The last climb of the day was BEYOND. Think steep incline that didn’t stop and just went on and on until I thought I would surely perish on that mountain. When I got to the top of Kelly Knob, I tried calling Rob, but it wouldn’t go through. Sprint is garbage. Verizon is the only thing that works out here. Even when it shows that I have Sprint service it doesn’t work.

When I was on Tray, I walked away from the shelter to eat lunch at a view, and no sooner did I sit down, when this family came and plopped down right next to me. They’d hiked 1.5 miles to get there and were talking about how tired they were. Please. Their dogs looked exhausted. One dog stared at me while I ate. Every time I pulled something out of my pack, their kid would walk over and stare at it, like he was waiting to see what I was going to do with it. They also thought the AT was 1500 miles, but I made sure they knew it’s 2200.
Tonight I had to do a PCT bear hang and I’m a freaking pro, let me tell you. Threw the line over a branch after like 8 tries…ok, whatever, I’m getting the hang of it…and then rigged up the bags. The bear box here had mouse droppings in it and smelled like death, so everyone was hanging food instead.
I’m trying to avoid the hiker stench and I washed my clothes in a stream, but they still stink. We all stink. Maybe it’ll keep the animals away.
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